Earlier this year, LA Weekly published an informative, well-researched cover story about vinyl, with a flawed central premise: that the format’s sound quality, relative to that of compact discs, matters significantly to today’s vinyl devotees. As its sound-engineer sources stated their case—that digital trumps analog for maximum sonic expression—my eyes glazed over and my thoughts wandered, to my own records and the reasons I own them, which have nothing to do with some belief that they sound “superior.” For me (and I surmise, many like me), preferring vinyl is about so much more.
• I enjoy collecting. As the son of former antique-store owners, I guess it’s in my blood. I started with action figures before my fifth birthday, moved on to comic books and ultimately landed on music, of varying shapes and sizes. Record store, web shop, thrift mart, garage sale—the hunt is half the fun, matched only by the thrill of finding a longtime want, or stumbling onto an unexpected find.
• I like the ritualism—and realness—of the experience. Scan the spines, choose an album. Slide it from its sleeve, place it on the platter. Tonearm up, needle down. Side one. In a world where almost any song is a mouse-click away, I prefer physical engagement, with the jacket, the artwork and the record itself. I use Spotify and iTunes when I’m working, but when music’s my primary mission, the turntable’s where I turn.
• Records represent commitment. My vinyl collection has two basic threads: albums I love and artists I trust. Checking either box means elevating to a place where a digital download isn’t enough, where I want to pledge real money as a show of support, and devote actual space as a sign of seriousness.
• Vinyl has value. No, I don’t buy records for investment. I play them, even the pricier ones, because life’s too short for shrink-wrap. But if I did want to sell some, say to buy others, I could, fairly easily. Try selling those iTunes downloads.
• And yes, it sounds different. I said different, not better. When I’m submerging in Tim Hecker’s ambient intensity, where an errant pop or click could pull me out of the moment, digital does it best, presenting that world as the artist intended. But when I’m cranking up Guided By Voices’ Alien Lanes for the 500th time, and its imperfectly perfect rock tunes are bouncing off my walls, some surface noise feels right—a reminder that sometimes, it’s good to get away from computer files for something a whole lot more tangible.